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Parashat Vayera

11/15/2019 01:31:23 PM


Rabbi Steven Suson

The most confusing message a child can hear is that of: “Do as I say, not as I do.” Researchers conducted a recent survey of teen drivers who related that while parents often remind them not to text and drive, they regularly see their parents using their own smartphones while driving.

Despite well-intended instruction, some values may only be instilled by proper example. According to the research, young drivers only internalize safe driving skills if they are modeled by adults in their lives. Only then will they, in turn, model safe driving techniques to their future passengers.

In the opening verses of Parashat Vayeira, read this week, we witness various acts of hesed (kindness) toward fellow human beings. Just as Abraham was recovering from his circumcision, Hashem Himself came to pay a visit. The Talmud describes this as an action bikkur holim, the jewish value of visiting a person to offer comfort when they are not well (Sota 14a).  The Talmud concludes that just as Hashem visited Abraham after his brit milah, we also have an obligation to visit the sick. Furthermore, since elsewhere in the Torah (Deuteronomy 13) we are told "You shall follow after the Lord your God," that is interpreted to mean that we are to imitate Hashem's values and attributes. Just as Hashem made clothes for Adam and Eve once they realized they were naked, we also have an obligation to provide clothing for those who are without. Just as God comforted Isaac upon the death of his father, Abraham, and buried Moses in Moab, also we must comfort mourners in our community and bury our departed brothers and sisters.

Abraham himself taught us a beautiful lesson by example in the very next verse of our Parasha. Despite that he was still recovering from his circumcision and he was under the weather enough to be visited by Hashem, Abraham rushed out of his tent to welcome approaching guests. This act teaches us another important Jewish value of hospitality and welcoming guests.

Indeed, hospitality, visiting the sick, and comforting mourners are more than just values - they are commandments incumbent upon all of us. Yet, there are no specific verses in the Torah instructing us to perform these mitzvot. It seems that there are many lessons the Torah teaches by detailing specific commandments, while others are taught by example, and not by explicit instruction. We are shown by God, our ancestors, sages and teachers how to behave and then we are expected to emulate their ways.

Similarly, we should be aware that our behavior serves as a model for others. If we give charity to worthy causes, others will follow suit. If we value active participation in our synagogue community, others will join. If we stand up for Israel, others will be inspired by our example.  

Some lessons are more effectively taught by example than by lecture. If we make Jewish ethics and rituals ever present in our homes, the next generation will internalize those values and we will fulfill our duty to "...follow after the Lord your God."

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Steven Suson

Tue, July 14 2020 22 Tammuz 5780